1 Living Bodhisattvas and Hijiri: Eison, Ninshō, and the Cults of Manjuśrī and Gyōki

in From Outcasts to Emperors: Shingon Ritsu and the Mañjuśrī Cult in Medieval Japan


This chapter centers on the late 1230s through the 1240s and examines the early activities of Eison and his most famous disciple, Ninshō. The two monks met in 1239, when Ninshō discussed with Eison his plans to compose seven Mañjuśrī images and enshrine them at seven outcast communities as a memorial to his deceased mother. The introduction of the Mañjuśrī cult and social welfare practices to the Saidaiji order’s activities is directly tied to this meeting. Yet despite the master-disciple relationship and close collaboration between the two monks from this time, contrasts in their monastic and cultic orientations deserve greater recognition. This chapter addresses the contrasts in their involvement in the Mañjuśrī cult, the closely connected cult of the itinerant saint Gyōki (668-749), and social welfare activities. I argue that while Ninshō’s social welfare activities show close emulation of Gyōki, Eison’s literary and ritual efforts point toward a simultaneous emulation of the deity (Mañjuśrī) and “erasure” of the saint believed to have incarnated that deity (Gyōki).